IT TOOK lawmakers just three hours to approve the Bt3-trillion budget for next year – and with all 206 legislators voting in favour of the bill, analysts believe the military government is sticking to its old school of thought.
Clearly the regime does not believe in reform and is more concerned with bolstering military power, they said. The deficit-creating budget – government revenue is estimated to be just Bt2.55 trillion – is disappointing to reformers, as it obviously aims to alter nothing in the status quo.
“The budget structure has not changed, as the current spending item at Bt2.26 trillion still accounts for 75.4 per cent of the new budget,” Anusorn Tamajai, dean of Rangsit University’s Economics Faculty, said.
Spending remains high for the salaries of government officials, which indicates the sector is still bloated and inefficient, when the authorities need to make it lean and fit for purpose.
The government’s capital spending stands at just Bt660 billion or 22 per cent of the budget, when “it should be increased to 30 to 40 per cent”, he said.
The government’s spending also reflects the military’s traditional way of safeguarding key institutions with resistance to social change. This is indicated by the fact that a large budget portion – Bt 329.2 billion or 11 per cent – will be spent on national security.
Rangsiman Rome, activist and Thammasat law graduate, said that far too much has been earmarked for national defence for a country not facing the threat of war. There is also no transparency in spending on security issues and this could mean the government is using taxpayers’ money for its own political gains – such as luring more politicians to its camp in preparation for the general election, he said.
The government has also allocated Bt40 billion to the Pracharat Projects, which aim to support people participation, but this again could be a ploy to win political support, he said.
The opacity of budget spending on national security has also raised questions about corruption in public spending, as a large number of lawmakers are military officers, he said.
Instead, he said, the government should spend more to boost the quality of education.
“The Education Ministry already gets a large share of the budget, or Bt297.4 billion, but this should be increased further,” he suggested.
Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a Chulalongkorn University’s student activist, said the Defence Ministry’s budget of Bt117.6 billion should be cut by half.
“The ministry’s budget has been increased every year under the current government, and the number of Army draftees has also been rising. The government has been expanding the military in order to rule by fear,” he said.
Instead, he said, more funds should be allocated to public health, considering the financial difficulties faced by many state-run hospitals.
“After the elections next year, the new government will have to correct the current regime’s mistakes, otherwise people will lose faith in politicians,” he said.
Thammasat University student Parit Chiwarak, who is also president of the Student Union of Thailand, agreed that the funds earmarked for the Defence Ministry should be cut and more spending should be directed towards public welfare and education.
He also questioned the sudden increase in funds for the Interior Ministry, which has said it needs more money to support provincial development.
“I suspect the money may be used for boosting popularity, as the election is approaching,” he said. The activist also said more people should participate in formulating government spending in the future.